Orson Welles

The Very Best of Orson Welles

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These days, people turn on the radio for talk shows, music, or news, not dramatic acting. But back in the 1930s -- before the majority of Americans had television sets in their homes -- dramatic radio broadcasts were huge. Taking us back to the glory days of dramatic radio (1938 to be exact), this excellent two-CD set contains director Orson Welles' famous Mercury Theater presentations of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Although both broadcasts are captivating -- Welles himself plays Count Dracula -- The War of the Worlds had a much greater impact. That's because Welles' adaptation of the sci-fi classic contained a fake "news broadcast" in which Mercury actors declared that aliens from Mars were invading New Jersey. Here's the thing: The acting was so convincing that some of the more gullible people who tuned into that October 30, 1938, broadcast (which attracted an estimated six million listeners) mistook fiction for fact and believed that hideous Martians really were invading Jersey, killing people left and right, battling the U.S. military, and getting ready to wreak havoc in Manhattan! Most listeners knew that the "news broadcast" was fiction -- however, many people all over the U.S. took it seriously and were in a state of panic. Singer Athan Maroulis, who wrote the liner notes, estimates that "perhaps one million" of those six million listeners believed that the "events" being described were really taking place. They didn't realize that the "newscasters" were actors in a repertory group, and on Halloween 1938, the New York Daily News ran the following headline: Fake Radio "War" Stirs Terror Through U.S. Intentionally or not, the great Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater colleagues had scared the living hell out of countless Americans. A historically fascinating release, The Very Best of Orson Welles definitely falls into the "essential listening" category.

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